Zach LaVine, the former Bothell High standout at UCLA, has decided to enter the NBA draft. His father, Paul LaVine, told the LA Daily News, “It’s like a marriage. If it doesn’t work out, you get a divorce. I don’t blame anybody.”
LaVine is a springy, 6-4 guard with great athletic skills. He was also not a starter for the Bruins, and he goes into the draft off this momentum: In his last five games, he shot 4 for 19 and missed all 10 of his trey attempts for a total of 11 points.
It’s not LaVine’s fault, nor is this original thought: But what a mess the NBA 19-and-under rule is.
As Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com tweeted Friday, LaVine has the look of a guy who might be wearing the uniform of the Maine Red Claws next season. That’s in the NBDL.
This isn’t about LaVine, but more about a broken NBA model. No matter the hosannas tossed the way of David Stern (except around here, of course) for his three decades as commissioner, one of the great failings of his tenure was to leave office with the ludicrous 19-and-under rule still in place, preventing prospects from entering the draft until they’re 19 and an NBA season removed from their high school graduation, which essentially allows them in after a year of college.
Such an exemplary model. College coaches fling themselves at prospects, spending untold time and money to get their name on a letter of intent, and after, what, a whole two academic quarters of investment in the college program, they’re off to the NBA. Or the developmental league. Still, the coaches can’t help themselves, although for all but Kentucky, it often doesn’t work for the schools. For instance, Washington’s seasons with Spencer Hawes and Tony Wroten yielded nothing but a trip to the NIT.
The experience of this year’s crop of talented, assumed-to-be-NBA-bound freshmen in the NCAA tournament is almost haunting. Jabari Parker of Duke probably heads to the pros without ever having won an NCAA-tournament game. Andrew Wiggins, 1 for 6 in Kansas’ second-game loss to Stanford, won one. So did Syracuse guard Tyler Ennis. Joel Embiid, the Kansas big man, is likely gone after experiencing a back problem that sidelined him for the tournament. (The news is better for people like Arizona’s Aaron Gordon and Kentucky’s Julius Randle.)
It’s the NBA players union that has held this up, but it’s also on Stern and the NBA leadership at the top that has to accept some responsibility for continuation of the rule. It seems too obvious to turn to something like a baseball model: Allow players to enter the league out of high school, but if they enroll in college, require them to stay there for at least two years.
Meanwhile, LaVine stands to get rich, although he’d better hope he doesn’t slip out of the first round. NBAdraft.net has him rated as the 12th player in the first round, while DraftExpress.com doesn’t have him in its top 25, though it’s unclear whether that reckoning came before he made known his NBA intention. (It did, however, list his teammate, Kyle Anderson, at No. 19, and Anderson has indicated he’s NBA-bound as well.)